With so much attention being given to who the Red Sox might pursue for late inning help in their bullpen, it appears as though they’re quietly making some moves to ensure they have some depth among their relief corps. The latest example of this came as the organization avoided arbitration with Heath Hembree today by signing him to a one year deal worth $1.3 million.
While Hembree’s unlikely to ever be a All-Star caliber pitcher, he did appear in 67 games last year while pitching to a 4.20 ERA while striking out 76 batters over the course of 60 innings and having a 1.33 WHIP. Having said that, folks were originally optimistic about Hembree’s chances of being an impact pitcher during 2018 but he never really emerged as a late inning powerhouse and usually appeared in the sixth or seventh inning where he was tasked with maintaining a multi-run lead.
The 29 year old (he’ll turn 30 in January) didn’t even originally make it onto the postseason roster. It was only after knuckleballer Steven Wright suffered a knee injury that Hembree was activated for Boston’s playoff run. Nevertheless, he did pitch 4.2 innings in four games during the 2018 postseason and didn’t give up any hits or runs (though he walked five batters) while striking out three.
In addition to only putting up middle of the road stats, Hembree isn’t exactly a fan favorite online. One person recently took to twitter, for instance, to sarcastically say he can’t wait for him to have “a 5 ERA while we lose Ottavino to the Yankees and he wins the Cy Young and Miller joins the Phillies or something and pitches to a 1.80 ERA.” Ranch Wilder even added that he’s willing “to leave [his] family in order to never see Heath Hembree throw another pitch in a Red Sox uniform.”
A lot of this frustration comes from people being upset that the Red Sox haven’t been more active in the search for a big name reliever on the free agent market. There are some reports saying they’ll wait to see what Craig Kimbrel ends up doing before making a serious move, which is very risky since most pundits agree Kimbrel could be a last minute signing wherever he ends up. Waiting that long could cause Boston to be stuck with a bunch of midlevel relievers like Hembree and few better options to bring to town.
It’s also worth noting that Hembree is out of options, which means the Red Sox won’t be able to send him to Pawtucket without him going through waivers. And while he’s not a superstar, there’d likely be some other teams who try to pick him up off the waiver wire. That could play a role in how executives manage their roster if someone becomes available as time progresses.
All in all, this isn’t a bad move as going through the arbitration process could have ended up costing the Red Sox a fair amount of money and he isn’t a horrible mid-inning reliever. But they certainly cannot use keeping Hembree in Boston as an excuse not to active pursue other relievers.